Its location at Chester Avenue and 19th Street is Bakersfield's oldest continuous business site.

But in recent years, it hasn't necessarily been its proudest.

But now, Historic Vests Market has new owners, and they want to transform the location and return it to its glory days. They’ve already repaired the slow-spinning rectangular "Vests" sign which until a few days ago hadn’t moved for probably decades.

Just the sight of that turning icon was enough to fire the imagination of close to 1,000 who saw video of the working sign in a Facebook post and kind of went crazy with nostalgia, waxing poetic for the old store's heyday, when 25-cent hot dogs and penny candy were a child's paradise on Earth.

"We are just getting started," said co-owner Shaw Rowshan.

"We still have a lot to do," echoed his business partner, Gurbax Singh. "We'll do whatever it takes to get it right."

The pair's to-do list is long:

They wanted to build a replica of the huge clock that for decades perched atop the turning sign. The original is housed at Kern County Museum, Singh said.

They're removing the signs and the old paint from the big windows, and they raised and lit the outdoor signs, uncovering old block-glass windows that will let in more light and glow with color at night.

They will steam-clean the grungy sidewalk out front, much of which includes a brick surface. And they are asking the city to repair the bollard lights out front, those short, green sidewalk lights that help illuminate the busy corner.

Inside, they've been scrubbing for weeks.

"Cleanliness is a priority," said Rowshan, a civil engineer by profession who pays attention to every detail.

There's more. Much more.

"As early as next week, the outside of the building will be transformed," Rowshan said.

"Whatever was here years ago, we want to bring back," Singh said.

It's going to take time, both men said. Don't visit the store expecting it to be all done. There's still so much to do.

According to a Kern County Historical Society marker placed there in 2015, the Fish Building, which had stood since 1890, was destroyed by fire in 1936.

"The current structure, built in 1938 by local contractor Henry Eissler (1879-1966), was designed by local architect Charles H. Biggar (1882-1946) in the Public Works Administration Modern with Ribbon architectural style," the marker reads.

The building was designed to have five additional stories added should conditions ever warrant such an expansion, said Ken Hooper, a U.S. history and archiving teacher at Bakersfield High School and president of the Kern County Historical Society.

Biggar, the architect, also designed the Haberfelde Building; the Bakersfield Californian building; the old Baptist church on Truxtun Avenue that later came to be known as the Bell Tower; and he was supervising architect for the Fox Theater, Hooper said.

"The reuse and continued use of historic buildings is very important for the downtown area," Hooper said.

Hooper lauded the two men for their willingness to invest in the historic location, and sees it as both a good business move and an investment in and a benefit to the larger community.

Said Hooper, "It's something that should be celebrated."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(2) comments


Would that restoration of Vests of old include returning to being a pharmacy?

Tam Daras

Move the bus station. THat would go a long way to help clean up downtown. Riff raff heaven.

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